Don't flood Middle Bar and Electra Run
EBMUD Water Plan threatens miles of Mokelumne
The Mokelumne flows from the High Sierra into Pardee Reservoir, EBMUD's main water storage in the foothills. If EBMUD's Water Supply Management Plan 2040 is approved in its current draft form, the utility will be on course to spend at least a billion dollars to build a new, higher Pardee Dam on the Mokelumne, destroying miles of river important for wildlife habitat, cultural and historic resources, recreational opportunities, and contributions to the Sierra foothill economy.
In forested canyons upstream of Pardee, the river and its watershed provide habitat to rare and endangered wildlife, including the California spotted owl, foothill yellow-legged frog, and goshawk. In its lower reaches, the Mokelumne serves as habitat for fall-run chinook salmon and steelhead. Like other anadromous fish that use the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the Mokelumne's salmon populations crashed this last year. Just 253 salmon reached the hatchery at Camanche Reservoir, EBMUD's lower reservoir downstream of Pardee.
Pardee Dam, built in 1929, feeds the "west fork" of the Mokelumne, the twin giant aqueducts that convey water to reservoirs in the East Bay hills. The new dam would expand Pardee Reservoir nearly three miles upstream, flooding the Mokelumne's Middle Bar reach and nearly a mile of the river's Electra Run above Highway 49. In 2008 the Bureau of Land Management found the Mokelumne upstream of Pardee eligible for designation as a national wild and scenic river.
In addition to drowning miles of free-flowing river, the larger reservoir would submerge the 1912 Middle Bar Bridge, a critical fire evacuation route. It would turn flowing, cold-water fish habitat into a warm lake and further starve the Delta of fresh water. And it would drown rapids and pools valued by kayakers and rafters, whose visits to the Mokelumne benefit the local economy. Its operation would also leave an ugly dead-zone bathtub ring around the river in the summer months.
Foothill residents, organizations, and local governments have voiced strong opposition to the proposed expansion. In a rare show of unity, local ranchers, Miwuk tribal members, four city councils, the Amador County Board of Supervisors, the Amador Water Agency, the Amador Historical Society, paddlers, anglers, and countless river-lovers have objected to EBMUD's plan. Two EBMUD hearings held in the foothills last March attracted 350 people.
The proposed expansion is also an environmental-justice issue. The portions of Calaveras and Amador Counties through which the river runs include pockets of high poverty, with very-low median incomes, an unemployment rate double the rest of the state, high rates of domestic violence, high rates of methamphetamine and alcohol addiction, and tragic levels of child abuse. Some people are living in tents in the forest or in cars, while local food banks are running out of food. In Calaveras County's second supervisorial district, 76 to 86% of students have been eligible for school-lunch support over the last 10 years. In the midst of these hardships, the Mokelumne River provides a welcoming place for families to take their children to play and swim, and food in the form of abundant fish caught year-round from the Middle Bar Bridge.
The potential destruction of numerous Native-American cultural sites in the Middle Bar area is also of great concern to local native people, who have been some of the most eloquent speakers at the local public hearings on the Pardee expansion.
Foothill residents care about the river because like the East Bay's parks, the Mokelumne provides us with recreation, spiritual renewal, and solace regardless of our income level, ability, or age. We teach our children about nature at the river. We cherish its inherent environmental value. We are acutely aware of the losses of the last century, when the original Pardee cut off salmon and steelhead from their rich upstream habitat - miles of river that may now prove critical to their restoration.
Why the push to build the "New Pardee"? EBMUD says district population growth over the next 30 years will create demand for additional water. But water-watchers are skeptical. EBMUD's own documents admit that demand estimates are based on land-use projections made before the recession began and housing starts plummeted. Those projections reflect, in the words of the related study, "the sentiments of the time".
If EBMUD does eventually need more water, there are other, cheaper, more-reliable alternatives available, including higher levels of conservation, water-neutral development, additional offstream storage, and more water recycling.
Still, several EBMUD directors are reluctant to ask ratepayers to conserve or pay more. Instead, they are willing to destroy miles of river beloved by many, important to fish and the Delta, and critical for foothill economies.
Rather than continue this colonial approach to the Mokelumne River, EBMUD should partner with foothill counties and conservation organizations to protect and restore the watershed, the Delta, and the salmon and steelhead populations. So far EBMUD, in its search for regional water solutions, has focused simply on taking more water out of the river and storing it somewhere. A broader approach is needed - one that considers environmental, social, and economic concerns as well as water rights and water supply. For example, EBMUD could partner with the upstream counties to develop viable conservation and efficiency programs that would extend their existing water supply without further taxing the river.
Those of us who live in the foothills don't elect EBMUD directors and therefore have little influence on them. We need East Bay residents to speak up in defense of the hard-working river you use every day.
Please write to your EBMUD director at:
East Bay Municipal Utility District
375 11th St.
Oakland, CA 94607-4240
Ward 1 - Crockett, Hercules, Richmond, Rodeo, Pinole, San Pablo
Ward 2 - Alamo, Blackhawk, Danville, Diablo, Lafayette, Pleasant Hill, San Ramon, Walnut Creek
Ward 3 - El Sobrante, Moraga, Orinda, Piedmont, central Oakland
Ward 4 - Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, El Cerrito, Kensington, north Oakland
Ward 5 - Alameda, San Leandro, San Lorenzo, west Oakland, Oakland Airport area
Ward 6 - Oakland (East Oakland and south of Park Boulevard/Fifth Avenue to San Leandro boundary)
Ward 7 - Castro Valley, portions of San Leandro, Hayward, San Ramon
Tell them to follow their own mission statement by supporting an environmentally responsible and sustainable approach to the Mokelumne River. That means not destroying more of the Mokelumne, removing the "expand Pardee" option from the Water Supply Management Plan 2040, and supporting National Wild and Scenic River designation for the Mokelumne.
Please endorse National Wild and Scenic designation for the Mokelumne yourself. For more information and to sign on in support, www.foothillconservancy.org
The Mokelumne is the heart of our community and the lifeline of your own. Working together, we can protect and restore this special river for future generations. Now's the time to start. To join in the efforts to protect it, contact Sierra Club Bay Chapter conservation organizer or call (510) 848-0800, ext. 312
or Tim Robertson, organizer for the Mokelumne River Protection Alliance, at (510) 712-8620 or by email to tim -at- savethemoke.com